Sabrina Geremia is a Canadian tech leader with an international résumé (and a healthy respect for Italian conflict resolution). As managing director of integrated solutions at Google Canada, her focus is on weaving the wonders of technology into everyday life both in and outside the office. This week, she is a guest speaker at the first annual Canadian Technology Leader Awards in Toronto. Here, she shares some of the secrets to her success
The international language of success
Earlier in my career I spent more than a decade working in Italy and in the U.K. I also worked in Asia and a bunch of other countries. The experience gave me the perspective that the world is round and I think that has really informed my career since. I know that seems obvious, but it can be easy to see the place that you are working at the centre of everything. More and more, business is global and I keep that in mind when I am developing new projects: Does this have global legs? Are there teams in different offices in other cities that would be interested in this? The other thing that is great about getting experience in foreign countries is that you see how different cultures operate. Working in Italy taught me that you don’t have to be afraid of emotional conflicts. Italians will express passions and then resolve the situation. They will get into debates that would probably be considered pretty aggressive here, but it works. It’s heated and then it’s fixed. Nothing brews.
Bring your passions into the workplace
Google does something called 20-per-cent projects. What this means is that you are encouraged to spend 20 per cent of your time working on something that is outside your regular job description. For example, Gmail was created by an engineer who started to think about what we could do beyond search. My current 20-per-cent project is about inspiring girls and women to get excited about technology. There are still so few women pursuing STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] careers even though it’s shaping everything – style, architecture, advertising, how we hail a taxi. Bringing women into this field is a passion of mine, and spending part of my work day on it gives me satisfaction. I’ve met new people, it helped build my network and I’ve learned so much. When people can bring their passion to their work, they are so much happier.
Make time to make time
I think about my time in terms of prioritizing important things, identifying things that can be done quickly and eliminating things that don’t fall into either of those categories. I sit down with my personal assistant every Thursday or Friday and we cull the things that I don’t need to do. I get invited to so many meetings that I don’t need to be at; there are people on my team who can go instead. I don’t need to attend every evening networking event.
You can be managed by your inbox. I try to block off time where I work and I don’t check my e-mail. When I do check I try to think: Is this e-mail going to lead to 20 more e-mails? Should we just discuss this at the next weekly meeting? I try to be deliberate about my time at work and then when I’m home, I put it away for a while. I have two kids and when I see them after work and we sit down for dinner, I’m not on my phone or checking my computer.
Wise words from the Great One
I’m the last person to use a sports analogy, but Wayne Gretzky said, “Skate to where the puck is going,” and I don’t think there is better professional advice. We spend so much time thinking about the past and not enough imagining about what the future is going to look like. I try to do that and it’s part of my job to help customers to do that, too. Ray Kurzwell is a futurist and he predicts that the next 10 years of change will be greater than the past 100. We can’t even imagine what’s coming, which I think might be why there is this tendency to hang onto the past – because it’s comfortable. We know how it looks. I try to say this to people, and particularly women in business – make technology your friend. That’s the future. That’s the puck.
It’s not great to think alike
One cliché that I’m not on board with is “great minds think alike.” I’m a huge believer in diversity and putting together a team where people don’t think in the same ways. I spend a lot of time thinking about this in terms of hiring. If I’m working on a presentation, I probably have six people offering their opinions and weighing in. This is how good ideas come together by building one person’s ideas on top of another. I don’t need to get two of the same perspective.
Find a mentor in a minute
At Google there are a lot of micro kitchens where people come to get coffee and tea and snacks. You bump into people who you don’t come across in your regular day to day. You can have a quick chat and maybe help each other in a more casual, spontaneous way. I’m a big believer in the idea of minute mentoring. If you see me grabbing a coffee, come up to me and ask for feedback on a project you’re working on or advice on a career move. I love having these conversations. They are valuable to me and I think they are valuable to other people.
This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea